Thursday, October 30, 2014

Taking the Lane: Caution, it may be habit forming!

OK, so it was frosty this morning. I didn't expect to see that sparkly white addition to the scenery and to my garden. I was awoken by a call from my boss asking if I could be at a job in 35 minutes, a 20 minute ride away if I pushed it. I briefly toyed with the idea of driving, but I knew it would only save a few minutes and I'd be cranky about it later, so I biked. I could have used thicker gloves, but otherwise all was well. The longer I bicycle commute, the harder it is to find any reason not to do it. The exceptions are only when it's really physically impossible to do so, or if it cuts too much into my sleep. We are all creatures of habit. Once that habit is established, it's hard to break. That's true for bad habits, but to an extent, good habits too. Habits may change with the seasons because we expect them to, and spring and fall are changeable times. Temperatures fluctuate widely and a frosty morning commute may turn into a glorious afternoon ride on the way home. Or conversely, it may have been wonderful earlier but a late ride home is uncomfortably chilly. For those of you who only commute, or even ride at all during warm weather, what really changes your habits when frosty mornings are here? Would you like to keep it up, but find lack of light daunting? Are you like my dentist who told me today “my eyes water, my glasses fog up, and my feet and hands get cold”? I see many different cold tolerance levels exhibited on the trails and streets, and they may all be appropriate based on the cold tolerance level of the rider. Though I think a parka and scarf over the face at 50 degrees might be just a bit excessive, I've seen it.
Dutch Winter Bike
Dutch winter bike
When I first decided to try winter commuting, it was an experiment. It had not been something I'd considered seriously before. If you're curious but don't like the idea of riding both ways, the city buses can carry bicycles. Or, you can drive part way and ride the rest, or maybe try certain days of the week.  Until I tried it I didn't known that I could do it. I made common mistakes; I dressed too warmly, but my gloves weren't warm enough, and I slid on packed snow. Still, I loved being out in the fresh, clean, cold air. The day was sunny and it was exhilarating. I felt such a sense of accomplishment reaching my destination!
Since that first day, the habit has just become easier. Yes, there have been days that I've gotten wet. I've had to plow my way through or go around unshoveled paths and curb cuts. My tires have slid. Mainly, it teaches me something for next time. At the very least, patience. And always, the benefits have far outweighed the inconveniences. Frost and snow are beautiful, and I don't have to scrape it off my windshield. The turn of the seasons is all around me, and I'm completely immersed in my environment.
That being said, do take sensible precautions. If riding in low light, have a headlight and tail light, and wear reflective clothing if possible. Allow yourself extra time if conditions are not perfect. Dress for 10 minutes into your ride, in layers that wick moisture away from your skin, not cotton. Wear a breathable jacket. Wear warm gloves and shoes, consider wool socks and a light weight scarf for your neck, if your jacket collar is loose, and a thin cap that fits under your helmet and covers your ears. This will get you started. As the temps go down further you will have to deal with eye and face protection, and possibly shoe covers and bar mitts, or warmer gloves. Riding a mountain bike with lower tire inflation or a bike with studded tires helps when conditions are slick. Also, don't forget to keep your drivetrain clean and lubed, and you'll appreciate fenders when it gets sloppy.

And be aware that cool and even cold weather commuting may become habit forming.    
Do this
Not this

1 comment:

  1. Nicely written and ever so true - especially about the habit. I do find myself walking two or three times a week on my commute, since it's only 2 miles. Walking takes me about twice as long over that distance and I plan accordingly. We should do a series of everyone in their winter gear. People may find that helpful.